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Perry says he's dropping out of race, backing Gingrich

FILE - In this Jan.. 18, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks in Greenville, S.C. AP Source says Texas Gov. Rick Perry abandoning presidential bid.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

FILE - In this Jan.. 18, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks in Greenville, S.C. AP Source says Texas Gov. Rick Perry abandoning presidential bid. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Reader poll

Of the remaining Republican presidential hopefuls, who has your vote?

  • Mitt Romney 32%
  • Newt Gingrich 42%
  • Rick Santorum 12%
  • Ron Paul 14%

219 total votes.

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination and endorsed Newt Gingrich, adding a fresh layer of unpredictability to the campaign two days before the South Carolina primary.

"Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?" Perry said. He called the former House speaker a "conservative visionary" best suited to replace Barack Obama in the White House.

While the ultimate impact of Perry's decision is unclear, it reduced the number of conservative challengers to Mitt Romney. The decision also reinforced the perception that Gingrich is the candidate on the move in the final hours of the South Carolina campaign, and that the front-running Romney is struggling to hold onto his longtime lead.

Perry's exit marked the end of a campaign that began with soaring expectations, but quickly faded. He shot to the head of the public opinion polls when he announced his candidacy last summer, but a string of poor debate performances soon led to a decline in support.

His defining moment came at one debate when he unaccountably could not recall the third of three federal agencies he has promised to abolish. He joked about it afterward, but never recovered from the fumble.